Extraordinary Photo Album from the 1968 Riots – Grief and Anger

Old Time D.C. writes:

“47 years ago today, Darrell Crain went out to document the aftermath of the 1968 riots – this collection is not to be missed.”

You can navigate the full 1968 Grief and Anger album above using the arrows above or view on flickr.

26 Comment

  • Intense. My father told us stories of how he watched the fires from his apartment building in Foggy Bottom and couldn’t be out in the evening due to curfew. Almost 50 years ago but the impact on DC is still so raw and we’re still recovering from it.

    • Agreed — the longer I’ve been in D.C. (12 years now in the city proper, and 3 years before that in the ‘burbs), the more I’ve come to realize just how big of an impact the 1968 riots had on the city.

      • I Dont Get It

        I was surprised at all the large retail stores pictured. Guess I never thought about it much. It was mostly empty lots the majority of my time in DC and who went north of U St anyway.

  • justinbc

    Wow, great quality photos. For anyone curious “Soul” on a business / car / etc meant that it was black owned, because for a while during the riots those places were being burned too.

  • Excepting the post-riot debris, much of DC looked pretty much the same when I first arrived 20 years later. The area around 9:30 Club where the new development is going was particularly bleak – block after block of empty lots and hollowed out buildings.

    Kind of remarkable that it took another 25 years after that for anyone to see value in the area.

    • I live in a rowhouse near there. The developer I bought the house from told me it was a burned-out shell from the riots. I was recently in the small attic and you could see the scorch marks on the brick and where the (now reinforced/sistered) roof joists were burned.

      • It was easy to see the value but not everyone had money even then to buy property and fix it up.

        • And even people who “saw the value” and had the money to buy/renovate had to wait A LOT longer than they expected for the area to clean up and recoup their investment. Sometimes the market can be irrational for longer than you can remain solvent.

          • brookland_rez


          • brookland_rez

            Also, I might add that I know people that went into those areas back then and tried to live there back in the 70’s and 80’s. With DC’s hollowed out middle class in those areas, living there was pretty dangerous. You could come in and fix up an house, only to have it broken into. When you’re surrounded by a criminal element, that overwhelms any other perceived value. Gentrification is a snowball effect. It has to build, and there’s casualties along the way. Let’s just be happy that pretty much anywhere in DC is liveable these day.

  • Difficult to fathom what that era was like.

  • The photo of the Safeway was interesting — I recently read the book Dream City (strongly recommend it, by the way) and it said that many Safeways were attacked in the riots but Giants were largely left untouched. They attribute this to the executives at Giant working with rioters and young leaders like Marion Barry to provide shelter and food and things, so the rioters left them alone.

  • I Dont Get It

    Very sobering. I’ve always wondered what the residents who lived near there did. Did they evacuate? Stand in front of their house with a hose? Even if I put up a Soul Brother sign out front I’d still be concerned that the fire would spread. I blogged about this once and although it got tons of reads no one ever answered those questions for me.

    • brookland_rez

      I suspect a lot of people just got the hell out. After the riots, was when the black middle class fled those areas in droves, to PG county, which led to PG becoming majority black by the mid 80’s.

      • +1 — people sometimes don’t realize that D.C. was affected not just by “white flight” (which got underway in the late 1940s and 1950s with the desegregation of housing and schools), but also by the “black flight” that happened after the riots.

  • The Old Guard came across from the bridge from Arlington to provide protection for the White House among other places. Occasionally old timers will post photos from those days in our Facebook page. It’s so mind blowing to see machine gun placements in front of the White House.

  • west_egg

    I’ve never been able to comprehend the tendency towards rioting. I understand that people were angry and upset — very justifiably so — but the reaction? “This terrible injustice has occurred — let’s destroy our community for generations to come!!”

    • I’ve never understood it either…but at least they weren’t rioting because their sports team won/lost?

    • The part that always mesmerized me is that the rioted and looted neighborhoods became predominantly black, ,meaning that the perpetrators had to endure living in blight neighborhoods for the next 40 + years. That just shows you how STUPID rioting really is. No one wins. Everyone loses. Cheers

    • Harlem
      By Langston Hughes
      What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?

    • Those parts of town were already mostly black. U Street was known as “Black Broadway” going back to the 1920s, when the Lincoln and Howard Theaters opened. Even before that, the neighborhood had the second largest black urban population in the country, surpassed only by Harlem.
      When my dad went to Howard from 1954-58, he never had reason to travel south of U Street. There wouldn’t have been many places he could go even if he’d wanted to. With residence and commerce restricted to, both poor and wealthy blacks lived in the same general area. Certainly there were more black-owned businesses than in other cities, but most were still owned by whites.
      I’m not saying I understand rioting, because I’ve never experienced emotion that leads to destruction. But there was a lot to feel angry about in that decade and it doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to understand why white-owned establishments in a black neighborhood would be targeted.

      • brookland_rez

        This is true. It’s also true that a lot (majority?) of black residents didn’t agree with this. Which is why those that could packed it up and moved out, a lot of times abandoning their houses. That’s why after the riots, all the residential areas became vacant and the city had to board up the properties. Absent viable commercial businesses, storefronts became blighted. What happened in 1968 set the stage for 30 years of abandonment and blight. Property values remained depressed at a constant low value all the until the late 90’s because there was an abundance of supply and very little demand. The housing boom in the early 2000’s provided a huge shot in the arm for DC.

    • Human beings act out of emotion sometimes – drinking too much at a party, having sex with the wrong person, quitting a job without having another job. Acting out of emotion doesn’t seem that mind-boggling or atypical. Rioting is extreme, but the emotions are extreme.

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